Federal agents are launching a criminal investigation into individuals who claim they can teach federal job applicants how to lie during required security polygraph tests. News site McClatchy broke the story last week, its latest in a series detailing failures in the polygraph process as well as the security and investigation process at large.
The federal government polygraphs about 70,000 people per year for security clearances and federal positions.
Two instructors have been targeted, one of whom has plead guilty. Doug Williams and Chad Nixon were discovered in sting operations in which federal agents posed as criminals trying to beat a polygraph. Williams is the well-known owner of Polygraph.com, a site that promises it can teach how to beat a polygraph test. Dixon pleaded guilty to federal charges of “obstructing an agency proceeding” and wire fraud.
Files confiscated in the investigation include the names of as many as 5,000 people who have sought information about ‘beating’ the polygraph. At least twenty of the individuals applied for government or federal contracting jobs, and half of those individuals were hired, according to the report. The National Security Agency has been named as one of the agencies where individuals seeking to obtain information about beating the polygraph were hired.
The process of teaching how to beat the polygraph typically includes the use of ‘countermeasures.’ These include controlled breathing, mental arithmetic, tongue biting, and muscle tensing. While it’s not illegal to research countermeasures, doing so could jeopardize a cleared professional’s ability to obtain federal employment, if such techniques were discovered. Most polygraph examinations will include the question, ‘Have you done any research on polygraphs?’ Citing your extensive research of methods to beat a polygraph is not likely to help your federal employment prospects – unless you’ve done really well at mastering the ‘techniques’ professionals claim will allow you to beat the system.
These federal charges are the latest in the Obama administration’s widespread crackdown on federal whistleblowers and leakers. Critics argue that those offering tips to beat the polygraph are covered by the First Amendment. Others say going after those offering tips to beat the system is a necessary step to ensure the protection of classified information.